AFC Championship Game: Three takeaways from Patriots' win over Jaguars
Never count Tom Brady out.
Trailing for the majority of Sunday's AFC championship game, Brady rallied the New England Patriots to a 24-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars to send the defending champions back to the Super Bowl.
Reports of Brady's injured right hand were largely exaggerated as the five-time Super Bowl champion completed 26 of his 38 pass attempts for 290 yards and two touchdowns.
The game-winning score was a four-yard pass to Danny Amendola, who made an acrobatic catch in the back of the end zone with two minutes and 48 seconds remaining in the game.
Amendola was a huge reason the Patriots clinched a trip to their 10th Super Bowl and eighth under head coach Bill Belichick. After New England tight end Rob Gronkowski was knocked out of the game late in the first half with a concussion, Amendola became Brady's go-to target.
He finished with seven catches for 84 yards and two touchdowns, his first score set up after Amendola caught a 21-yard pass on third-and-18.
Once the Patriots had the lead, the defense took over and prevented the Jaguars from reaching their first Super Bowl.
Three takeaways from the Patriots' win over the Jaguars
1. Penalties costly for Jacksonville - Though a couple of penalties were questionable, the Jaguars were flagged six times for 98 yards. The Patriots, meanwhile, had just one 10-yard penalty.
Penalties called against the Jaguars before half-time led to New England's first touchdown. Barry Church was penalised for unnecessary roughness after he made helmet-to-helmet contact with Gronkowski, who was forced into the concussion protocol.
Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye was then hit with a dubious pass interference call on the next play to set up James White's 1-yard plunge into the end zone.
2. Bill Belichick is a master at half-time adjustments - Jaguars coach Doug Marrone and his coaching staff had a perfect game plan in place. It was working, too, as the Jaguars jumped out to a 14-3 lead. The Jaguars held a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter as quarterback Blake Bortles played one of the best games of his career.
Bortles was 23 of 36 for 293 yards and a touchdown as the Jaguars lost for the first time without turning the ball over. Jaguars offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett called a mixture of runs and short passes that loosened up the Patriots defense to give Bortles opportunities to push the ball downfield. The use of play-action passes allowed Bortles to gain confidence with every throw, even as the Jaguars got unlikely contributions from running back Corey Grant and wide receiver Keelan Cole.
Grant's speed gave New England fits early. He had three catches for 59 yards, the second of which set up a four-yard pass from Bortles to tight end Marcedes Lewis.
But it was a different story in the second half as the Patriots made adjustments and kept the Jaguars out of the end zone.
"We said whatever it takes," Brady told CBS Sports. "That was a great second half."
3. Jaguars unable to capitalise on New England mistakes -- The Patriots don't make many mistakes, but when they do, their opponents have to capitalise on them. Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack, who had to be helped off the field with a left leg injury three plays before Amendola's game-winning touchdown, forced a turnover with an incredible individual effort.
After the Patriots ran a trick play with a lateral from Brady to Amendola, who then threw across the field to running back Dion Lewis, Jack tracked down Lewis and ripped the ball from him early in the fourth quarter at the Patriots 45-yard line.
The Jaguars held a 20-10 lead at the time and could have put the game out of reach. Instead, they had a three-and-out and the Patriots scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession, leading to a key change in momentum from which Jacksonville never recovered.